On Saturday evening, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy attempted to mend relations with Poland by honoring two Polish humanitarian volunteers during his return trip from the United States and Canada. This gesture aimed to ease tensions caused by a recent political disagreement with Warsaw.
Even though Poland initially supported Ukraine during the Russian invasion, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, known for its conservative and nationalist views, has recently taken a tough stance against their neighboring country. This shift in attitude is largely attributed to the upcoming election on October 15.
In order to protect Polish farmers — crucial to the ruling party’s electoral prospects next month — Warsaw has blocked agricultural imports from Ukraine, in a protectionist move that Kyiv says is illegal and has referred to the World Trade Organization. Amid this dispute over food products, Warsaw made the shock announcement it would no longer send arms to Ukrainian forces fighting the Russians.
In the past few days, Zelenskyy has been determined to steer clear of involvement in Polish elections and has focused on highlighting the significance of personal connections between average citizens of Poland and Ukraine. In line with this approach, Marcin Przydacz, the head of the presidency’s international policy office, informed the Onet news platform that Zelenskyy made a brief stop in Poland on his journey back to Kyiv and did not have any meetings with politicians.
Instead, Zelenskyy awarded honors to two Polish individuals who aided Ukraine. Zelenskyy recognized journalist Bianka Zalewska from the American-owned TV network TVN for her contribution in delivering humanitarian aid to Ukrainians and transporting injured children to hospitals in Poland. He also praised combat medic Damian Duda for organizing teams to care for wounded soldiers near the front line and establishing a fund to support medics and provide them with training.
On X, previously known as Twitter, Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude to the people of Poland for their priceless support and unity in safeguarding the freedom of all of Europe.
According to Onet, Duda received the Third Class “For Meritorious Service” presidential order for his contributions as a battlefield medic since 2014.
The medic stated that he works in the trenches of Ukraine, providing aid to Ukrainian soldiers. He mentioned being present until the end of the Ukrainian defense in Bakhmut, Soledar, and Zaporizhzhia. He also mentioned that their work is voluntary and without cost, and expressed gratitude for President Zelenskyy recognizing their efforts to assist others at the risk of their own lives.
Kamil Turecki is a journalist for Onet, a sister publication of POLITICO and owned by Axel Springer, in Poland.